The Fauquier County Board of Zoning Appeals will consider Thursday whether to renew a special permit for a puppy store that faces opposition from local residents concerned the shop perpetuates out-of-state "puppy mills."
Dog retailers may operate legally in Virginia and Fauquier County. However, The Puppy Shop, owned by Gainesville resident Angela Jrab, has been cited with multiple zoning violations since opening less than six months ago.
The shop opened its Fauquier location on Dec. 16, 2020. Since then, it has been cited four times by Fauquier County for building and zoning violations, including an incident on May 20 where zoning officials found the shop had violated the terms of the special permit granted last August.
In this most recent incident, the citation alleges the business had more puppies on the premises than allowed by the special permit, prompting the Fauquier County Department of Community Development’s staff report to question Jrab’s willingness to abide by conditions stipulated by the board.
Additionally, the staff report notes Jrab has indicated she has obtained puppies to sell from breeders not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in violation of Virginia law. Jrab has not been charged with a crime, however.
The application to renew the special permit has garnered opposition from members of the public, with more than three dozen public comments already submitted opposing the application -- and puppy retailers in general -- claiming the businesses rely on “puppy mills” where dogs are bred in inhumane conditions.
Puppy retailers may operate legally in Virginia, however, and the county code allows them to operate in a commercial district with a special permit.
“We believe we have proven ourselves to be a respectful business with healthy, happy puppies available for purchase,” Jrab said in the statement of justification she submitted to the board ahead of the Thursday, June 4 hearing. Jrab is also requesting the term of the special zoning permit, which is currently required to be renewed each year, to instead be extended to three years.
The shop, now located at 5021 Lee Highway, had been located in Culpeper from 2018 until last year. Since opening the New Baltimore location late last year, the shop has sold nearly 200 puppies, according to Jrab’s written statements to the board. The shop offers financing, delivery and shipping.
Jrab did not respond to a detailed list of questions sent to both a business and a personal email address last week. When reached by phone Tuesday, Jrab said, “I’m communicating with Fauquier County” and declined to comment further.
Multiple zoning violations prompt staff concerns
The shop operates under a dealer’s permit issued Dec. 15, 2020, by the animal control division of the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office.
Previously, on Aug. 6, 2020, the board of zoning appeals voted unanimously to approve a one-year special zoning permit for the business with board member John Meadows noting the board could only consider the land-use considerations related to the application. There was one public comment opposing the application, based mainly on a general opposition to puppy retailers.
A week later, on Aug. 13, 2020, the Fauquier County Building Inspection Office issued a stop-work order to the business, citing “tenant build out without permits.” A commercial construction permit was eventually issued on Oct. 1, 2020, for the work, which included installing ventilation and sound-proofing.
The shop opened Dec. 16, 2020. In the following months, the business was the subject of several warnings and two formal citations for violating zoning laws regarding signs advertising the business.
Beginning Dec. 21, just five days after the shop opened, “multiple complaints were received of unpermitted and impermissible signs erected on-site and at off-site locations,” notes the community development department’s staff report submitted to the zoning appeals board. \
“The complaints were found to be valid in all cases,” the report states.
“Unpermitted and impermissible signs were erected multiple times after notification in writing was provided to the business owner,” the report adds. Verbal and written warnings were issued to Jrab on several occasions, the report notes. Formal notices of violation were issued to Jrab on April 15 and May 3.
A fourth formal citation was issued in late May because the shop allegedly violated the terms of the special zoning permit approved by the zoning appeals board last year. The terms of the permit states: “At no time shall there be more than twenty-four (24) puppies available for sale from the facility.”
But on May 20, county staff visited the shop and found 31 puppies for sale, according to a notice of violation filed May 21. Jrab was ordered to correct the situation, but was not fined.
According to the staff report, Jrab justified the additional dogs on the property by claiming the special permit “did not explicitly prohibit additional dogs being kept on the premises” and claimed the seven additional dogs were not for sale. The special permit says: “There shall be no breeding, grooming, training or boarding of dogs on the property” that are not for sale.
In Jrab’s statement of justification this year, she asks the board to increase the limit on dogs for sale to 34. But county staff is recommending against that request. “Staff does not believe the increase in the number of puppies is justified due to the applicant’s inability to adhere to the previously approved conditions,” the report says.
Complaints -- but no charges -- in Culpeper
Jrab is no stranger to complaints. “As you may know, puppy stores in general are a target for many complaints,” said Culpeper County Deputy Animal Control Officer Kim Seibert in an email to the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office in March 2020.
When The Puppy Shop was located in Culpeper, Seibert said, her officers responded to multiple complaints about the business, but none were found to warrant criminal charges or the revocation of the shop’s dealer’s license. What issues were identified were promptly corrected, she said.
“They have passed all inspections,” Seibert wrote. “We have had complaints of smell, overcrowding, leaving the doors open while bathing, failure to post breeder information on enclosures. In reference to the smell, it was not overwhelming and they were installing fan units. In reference to the overcrowded condition, unfounded. Information was given on the necessary paperwork to be posted and the issue was corrected immediately.”
Jrab was charged for allegedly failing to provide adequate care to animals in 2019, but Seibert explained that the investigation quickly found there was no evidence for the complaint, and Culpeper County prosecutors dropped the charge.
Questions about source of puppies
As part of this week’s request to renew the business’ special zoning permit, Jrab is asking the zoning appeals board to allow her to source dogs from breeders who are not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for regulating breeders and dealers under the Animal Welfare Act of 1966.
“We have several Virginia breeders, not USDA licensed, that we have secured puppies from over the years,” Jrab says in the statement of justification she submitted to the board.
This corresponds with similar language on the business’ website from 2019 to at least August 2020, according to archived data captured by the Internet Archive. On Aug. 9, 2020, for instance, the website read: “Our puppies come from USDA licensed breeder, hobby and from local breeders.” This was when the business still operated in Culpeper, but three days after the Fauquier zoning board approved the special permit that required “Puppies … be secured only from USDA breeders.”
According to the staff report, the issue is a matter of state law and cannot be decided by a local zoning board.
“State code prohibits the dealer or commercial dog breeder who is not licensed or exempted from licensure by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sell any dog to a pet shop,” the report says, noting the staff’s formal opposition to Jrab’s request to sell dogs procured from unlicensed breeders.
Jrab lists Preferred Canines, a USDA licensed company registered in Sugarcreek, Ohio, as the store’s broker and delivery company. According to USDA records, Preferred Canines passed routine inspections in 2019, 2020 and 2021 with no issues.
Jrab does not list the names of the breeders where the dogs originate, but says, “We have approximately 45 breeders that we currently draw from. Our breeders are located in Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
“Our breeders are USDA licensed," Jrab says in her statement of justification. The same document asks the zoning board to allow her to obtain puppies from unlicensed breeders and notes the business has obtained puppies to sell from “several Virginia breeders, not USDA licensed,” though it does not specify a timeframe during which that occurred.
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